Beaufort Historic District: Beaufort, South Carolina
A sense of timelessness pervades the Beaufort Historic District, a neighborhood distinguished by stunning vistas and architecture spanning more than 250 years. That's not to say this quaint district is a throwback in time. Rather, it is a place that embraces its past, employing principles and precedents that are as relevant today as when the district was first planned in 1711.
Neighborhood is bounded by the Beaufort River to the south and east, Bladen and Hamar Streets to the west, and Boundary Street to the north.
The neighborhood's layout and the size, mass and scale of buildings make it intrinsically green. Small, walkable blocks and a consistent lot orientation maximize cooling in summer from prevailing winds and heating in winter from a southerly sun exposure. Natural building techniques — porticoes, high ceilings and raised foundations — allow for year-round comfort. The neighborhood's centuries-long tradition of adaptive reuse utilizes existing infrastructure.
Bridges, streetscapes, and building style are defining elements among the Historic District's five distinct neighborhoods. The range of architecture — Federal, Georgian, Italianate, and Queen Anne — results from the city's history and settlement patterns. There are large stately mansions built as summer homes by wealthy planters looking to escape pestilent mosquitoes, small working-class cottages that were home to many African Americans, and grand civic institutions. Bridges and streetscapes are defining elements. Residential streets boast verdant tree canopies — often Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss — while commercial thoroughfares feature awnings and strategically placed trees.
The district's beauty and rich history give rise to a sense of community and an affability that goes beyond traditional Southern hospitality. There is a resilience and deep sense of pride among all residents that has allowed this neighborhood to overcome adversity and thrive.
A key player in the Secessionist movement — those advocating Southern independence — met in the 1810 Maxcy–Rhett house. Beaufort, ironically, benefited from its long occupation by Union troops. The commandeering of residences for hospitals and officers' quarters spared it from the fiery fate of other Confederate cities. Mother Nature wasn't as generous. Devastated by an 1893 hurricane and 1907 fire, Beaufort saw its population drop 40 percent from 1900-1910.
Residents eventually rallied. A 1945 effort to save the Verdier House, circa 1804, led to creation of the Historic Beaufort Foundation. In 1968, Beaufort recognized the neighborhood as a local historic district. National Landmark Historic District status was achieved in 1973 after the city adopted a district-specific zoning ordinance and established a Historic District Review Board.
The $5.3 million Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, the result of a 1975 plan, served as a springboard for revitalization, bringing residents and visitors to the neighborhood for events such as the Water Festival, Gullah Festival, and Taste of Beaufort. More recently, a 2001 park master plan resulted in a $6.8 million renovation. Other plans address the district's traditional African American settlement, the Northwest Quadrant, and include redevelopment of the mixed-use corridor on Bladen Street.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Initial plan (1711) used grid layout with small, 300-feet by 300-feet blocks; district is 304 acres with two miles-plus of waterfront property (128 blocks) on Port Royal Island
- Feiss-Wright Survey of Historic District (1970) led to creation of architectural review board
- Historic preservation plans (1989, 2008) address threats to Historic Landmark status
- Waterfront Park Plan (1975) lays foundation for $5.3 million riverfront park with marina; plan update (2001) resulted in $6.8 million in renovations
- Survey of Northwest Quadrant (2009) focused attention on restoration of blighted properties
- Bladen Street Redevelopment overlay code (2010) resulted in sustainable improvements
- Civic Master Plan (2013) — to be implemented through new form-based zoning, calibrated to character of each neighborhood — provides for more compatible development in historic district
Natural and Manmade Beauty
- Scenic vistas are protected; streets terminating at river have unimpeded views
- Parkland preserves natural settings; The Bluff, a 15-foot natural bluff, meets a river marsh; The Green features open space dotted by moss-covered Live Oaks that characterize region
- Impressive antebellum architecture includes Federal, Italianate, Greek, and Gothic Revival
- Colonial-era structures destroyed by hurricane (1893), fire (1907); oldest house dates to 1717; St. Helena's Episcopal Church (est. 1712; built 1724) one of oldest active in North America
- Civic institutions include brick-and-tabby Arsenal (1795), Greek Revival Beaufort College Building (1852), District Courthouse (1883), Carnegie Library and U.S. Post Office (both 1917)
- Attractive streetscapes differentiate residential from commercial; tree canopies define residential roads; awnings and strategically placed trees hallmarks of commercial streets
- Woods Memorial Bridge (1959), now eligible for listing on National Register, is a metal truss structure and one of last remaining swing bridges in state; visible from Waterfront Park
- Committee to Save the Lafayette Building (aka Verdier House), formed in 1945 to preserve 141-year-old structure; evolved into Historic Beaufort Foundation (1965)
- Officially recognized as local historic district (1968); added to National Register of Historic Places (1969); designated a National Landmark Historic District (1973)
- City adopted historic district zoning, established Historic District Review Board (1970); published preservation manual (aka Milner Guidelines) (1979, 1990)
- Main Street Beaufort (1985) helps preserve district's history and culture, stimulate commerce
- Homes sited to use winds for summer cooling, southerly exposure for winter heating
- Porticoes, large shuttered windows, high ceilings help provide year-round comfort
- Centuries-old tradition of adaptive reuse — i.e. conversion of historic homes to inns, old city hall to market and cafe — uses existing infrastructure
- Streetscape programs make use of pervious pavers, other sustainable products and practices
- Commercial Street includes art galleries, bookstores, antique shops, restaurants, museums
- Waterfront Park hosts yearly Water Festival, Gullah Festival, Shrimp Festival, Taste of Beaufort